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Br'er Rabbit (also spelled Bre'r Rabbit or Brer Rabbit or Bruh Rabbit, with the title "Br'er" pronounced /ˈbrɛər/) is a central figure in the Uncle Remus stories of the Southern United States. He is a trickster character who succeeds through his wits rather than through strength, tweaking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. The story of Br'er Rabbit, a contraction of "Brother Rabbit", has been linked to both African and Cherokee cultures. Disney later adapted the character for their Song of the South.

African origins

The Br'er Rabbit stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in Western, Central and Southern Africa. These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore of numerous peoples throughout those regions. In the Akan traditions of West Africa, the trickster is usually the spider (see Anansi), though the plots of spider tales are often identical to those of rabbit stories.[1]

Many have suggested that the American incarnation, Br'er Rabbit, represents the enslaved African who uses his wits to overcome circumstances and to exact revenge on his adversaries, representing the white slave-owners. Though not always successful, his efforts made him a folk hero. However, the trickster is a multi-dimensional character. While he can be a hero, his amoral nature and lack of any positive restraint can make him a villain as well.

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For both Africans and African Americans, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior which people may be forced to emulate in extreme circumstances in order to survive. The trickster is not to be admired in every situation; he is an example of what to do, but also an example of what not to do. The trickster's behavior can be summed up in the common African proverb: "It's trouble that makes the monkey chew on hot peppers." In other words, sometimes people must use extreme measures in extreme circumstances.[3]

The American version of the story is said to have originated among enslaved Africans. Br'er Rabbit stories were written down by Robert Roosevelt, uncle of President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography, about his aunt from Georgia, that "She knew all the 'Br'er Rabbit' stories, and I was brought up on them. One of my uncles, Robert Roosevelt, was much struck with them, and took them down from her dictation, publishing them in Harper's, where they fell flat. This was a good many years before a genius arose who, in 'Uncle Remus', made the stories immortal."

These stories were popularized for the mainstream audience in the late 19th century by Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote up and published many of the stories which were passed down by oral tradition. Harris also attributed the birth name, Riley, to Br'er Rabbit. Joel Chandler Harris heard the tales in Georgia. Very similar versions of the same stories were recorded independently at the same time by folklorist Alcée Fortier in southern Louisiana, where the Rabbit character was known as Compair Lapin in Creole French. The stories were retold for children by Enid Blyton, the English children's writer.

Cherokee origins

Although Joel Chandler Harris collected materials for his famous series of books featuring the character Br'er Rabbit in the 1870s, the Br'er Rabbit cycle had been recorded earlier among the Cherokees: The "tar baby" story was printed in an 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate the same year Joel Chandler Harris was born.[4]

Rabbit and Hare myths abound among Algonquin Indians in Eastern North America, particularly under the name Nanabozho. The Great Hare is generally regarded as the supreme deity among tribes in eastern Canada.

In "That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community" by Jace Weaver, the origins of Br'er Rabbit and other literature are discussed. To say that a story only originates from one culture and not another can only be true when a group of people exist in complete isolation from others. Whereas, the Cherokee did live in isolation from Europeans in the far past, it's also true to say that a substantial amount of interaction happened between, not only North American tribes, but also between Europeans and, more often, those from the slave population during the 18th and 19th Centuries. That being understood, it is impossible to ascertain whether the Cherokee story pre-dated, independently, the African American story. Stories are told around communal fires in the evening and would have been told to travellers and visitors - they are the memorable currency of diplomacy.

In the Cherokee tale about the briar patch, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes."[5] There was a "melding of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ... into the culture of African slaves."[6] "In fact, most of the Br'er Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths."[7]

Modern interpretations

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The 1946 Disney film Song of the South is a frame story based on three Br'er Rabbit stories, "The Laughing Place", "The Tar Baby", and "The Briar Patch". The character of Br'er Rabbit was voiced by Johnny Lee in the film, and was portrayed as more of a "lovable trickster" than previous tales.[2] Disney comics starring that version of Br'er Rabbit have been done since 1945.[8]

The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland thrill rides, both known as Splash Mountain, have a Br'er Rabbit theme. Br'er Rabbit also appears at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts for meet-and-greets, parades and shows. He also has a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and appears as one of the guests in House of Mouse. Jess Harnell performed Br'er Rabbit's voice characterizations in Splash Mountain and modern animation.

In 1975, the stories were retold for an adult audience in the cult film Coonskin, directed by Ralph Bakshi. A direct-to-video film based on the stories, The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, was released in 2006.

For many years, a popular brand of molasses called "Brer Rabbit" was distributed by Penick & Ford Ltd.[9] The brand is currently distributed by B&G Foods of New Jersey.

The 1972 novel Watership Down features the character El-ahrairah, who the author suggests is based on Br'er.[citation needed]

In 1984, American composer Van Dyke Parks produced a children's album, Jump!, based on the Brer Rabbit Tales.

In Oakwood theme park a ride is called Br'er Rabbit's burrow.

In the popular Hip-Hop band The Flobots, one of Emcees names is Br'er Rabbit.

See also

References

  1. http://www.yale.edu/glc/gullah/05.htm
  2. 2.0 2.1 Brasch, Walter M. (2000). Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris. Mercer University Press. pp. 74, 275.
  3. "Brer Rabbit and Ananse Stories from Africa (article) by Peter E Adotey Addo on AuthorsDen". Authorsden.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  4. "Cherokee Tales and Disney Films Explored". Powersource.com. 1996-06-15. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  5. Latin American Indian literatures journal (Dept. of Foreign Languages at Geneva College) 6: 10. 1990.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community, p. 4)
  7. "Cherokee Place Names in the Southeastern U.S., Part 6 « Chenocetah’s Weblog". Chenocetah.wordpress.com. 2007-11-12. Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  8. Br'er Rabbit at INDUCKS
  9. "Gallery of classic graphic design featuring Brer Rabbit". Graphic-design.tjs-labs.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 

External links

Template:Uncle Remusda:Bror Kaninfy:Broer Knyn id:Bung Kelinci it:Fratel Coniglietto nl:Broer Konijnno:Langøre simple:Br'er Rabbit fi:Veli Kani sv:Bror Kanin

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